Saturday, September 24, 2016

Phat Unicorn! Restaurant Review: The Blue Door Cafe and Bakery (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio)

Greetings, Darlings. Today, another Phat Unicorn! restaurant review. On the chopping block today: The Blue Door Café and Bakery, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Partner and I visited this highly-rated eatery today at lunchtime/brunchtime. We had relatively high expectations, having read on Trip Advisor that The Blue Door is rated #2 of all restaurants in the area. Granted #1: As mostly-vegans and mostly gluten-free eaters, we are often … shall we say ..? challenging to feed. Granted #2: This is Ohio, which is not generally renowned as a hotbed of culinary excellence. However, the reviews seemed to describe a trendy, hip, happening place with (of all things) a French cuisine of very high regard going on. Sounds like fun, right? So off we went.

First impressions: A nice, kind of cute little place. Very small outdoor eating space – which seemed inviting due to the gorgeous weather today. Dining room crowded, with tables VERY close together. The noise level was rather high, which we generously attributed to ‘buzz’ in the dining room. In point of fact, it looked quite a lot like any other diner in the American Midwest – certainly not upscale or fancy. Still, because the place was rated #2 in the entire area, we kept our hopes high.

We hadn’t made a reservation (people make reservations at diners in NE Ohio?), but we weren’t in a hurry and were happy to wait. There were two other couples ahead of us. We let the hostess know that, if possible, we would love to be seated outdoors. She noted that next to our name. We spent some of the intervening time admiring the lovely-looking baked goods in the case at the front, our mouths watering. We noted to ourselves that gluten-free might not be happening today, but at least our mouths would be happy.

About ten minutes later, the hostess came to seat the second of the two couples ahead of us. As she went to lead them into the restaurant, they suddenly asked if they could take the recently-vacated table outside instead. (Remember, we had asked the hostess if we could be seated outdoors when she took our name. This couple had not.) She glanced at us uncertainly, and then took the other couple outside, then returned to bring us to the table – a tiny two-seater jammed into the wall next to the hostess stand – that she had originally set aside for them. She did not mention the outside seating thing, or that we had clearly seen her give our table away to someone who hadn’t asked for it until it was time to seat us both.) I’m not sure if the hot-pink hair currently crowning the head of Yours Truly had anything to do with her unwillingness to seat us outside in the public view or not, but … Strike one. I gritted my teeth and followed her to the table with a smile. I was slightly disappointed, but determined to have a nice brunch.

A quick glance at the menu revealed that we would be going with ‘vegetarian’ today rather than ‘vegan’, due to their being absolutely no vegan options. Odd, for a restaurant so highly-rated and which clearly considered itself to be cutting-edge. The menu itself was extremely limited, only one page in total including the alcoholic beverages. The brevity of the menu and the alcohol available were both clear indicators that the restaurant was trying to position themselves as an upscale Parisian-style café and not the diner that appearances would suggest. Most of the items contained either eggs, meat or dairy (cheeses, cream cheese, butter, etc.) – but avocado was also an ingredient in several dishes, so I was confident I could at least avoid dairy, even if the situation necessitated a cage-free egg.

The server appeared shortly. After an awkward (and thankfully brief) back and forth over whether or not they might have any kind of non-dairy milk (due to being mostly-vegan), I settled on water to drink, and Partner on a water and a half coffee, half hot chocolate. The server didn’t mention that there was dairy milk in the hot chocolate (which fortunately, we had already guessed, as this is usually the case) – despite our inquiry about nondairy milks. Fortunately, Partner can handle a little dairy. He never received his water.

The server returned for our order. Partner ordered two Nutella crepes (the option was one or two), and I selected the Blue Door Benedict. This normally comes with ham, but since I assumed they prepare their own food fresh to order, it should have been a simple matter to omit the ham, and to put in a slice of avocado instead. (Multiple dishes containing avocado were listed on the menu.) The server looked uncomfortable when I mentioned leaving off the ham, and when I asked if I might get a bit of avocado instead, informed me that the chef did not ‘allow any substitutions’. Darlings, I’m sure I looked as if a fly had flown into my mouth, so shocked was I.

'None at all?', I asked. The server shook her head mutely. I was certainly not going to order a $13 poached egg on a biscuit and pick ham off of it, so I cancelled that dish and settled for my second choice, a sautéed squash and Portobello mushroom omelette. The dish was listed as containing fresh goat cheese. I hesitantly asked if they usually put very much cheese in the omelette. The server, who was honestly very nice and trying to help us but who clearly knew they would not be able to provide me with anything that did not contain something I wouldn’t eat, offered – very reluctantly and with much doubt – that perhaps they could only use half the amount of cheese normally used on mine. 

Please keep in mind that she is by now completely aware that I do not eat dairy. Apparently fear of the chef runs so strongly that to even suggest that a non-dairy-eating person might not want any cheese is out of the question. Strike two.

I should point out at this time that I have, in fact, eaten at some very nice restaurants in Paris and in other parts of France. I have never encountered a situation where a chef – no matter how upscale the restaurant – was not happy to make accommodations to suit a patron with dietary restrictions. My heart began to sink, and my reservations about the “#2 restaurant” with pretentions of being a fancy French bistro began to grooooooooooooooow. If we could have left at that point without making a scene, we would have done. Instead, we stayed, hoping to at least receive something special for the price.

When the food arrived, we were again underwhelmed.

The presentation of the crepes was admittedly pretty, but that was the high point of that dish. We joked that it was a good thing Partner had ordered the larger two-crepe meal, as they came absolutely alone, with no accompaniments. For the price, two small triangles looked lonely and meager on the plate. Added to that, the best thing that could be said for the crepes was, “The Nutella is tasty.” The crepe itself was chewy, bordering on rubbery. Definitely not worth the price. Strike three. (Technically, they should have been out with three strikes, but by now we were committed. Let’s keep counting, shall we?)

My omelette was fluffy, but a bit too wet, which marred the texture. It wasn’t greasy at all – just underdone. The squash and mushrooms, on the other hand, were overdone, quite dark and shriveled. Apparently out of courtesy to my desire to go without dairy, the fresh goat cheese was piled all in one place on top of the omelette, so at least it was easy to scrape aside. The béchamel sauce was pleasant, and was the best part of my dish. However, it was also unnecessary. The entire plate smacked of pretention; I could have had a better omelette, prepared with the ingredients I wanted, at IHOP for a third of the price. (I never thought I’d say I preferred food from IHOP; certainly never to a place with such a high rating. However, in this case the comparison is entirely appropriate.) Strike four. Of note: The omelette, at least, came with a small dish of fresh fruit, which I gave to my Partner out of pity for his expensive plate of very little breakfast. The server returned and took our plates – and forks – while Partner was still eating the fruit, leaving him to use his coffee spoon to finish it. Strike five.

Overall, I can’t say the food was bad, merely that it was ‘good’. Not great. Not excellent. Certainly not deserving of the title #2 restaurant in the area. (There are a lot of restaurants in the immediate area, many of which we’ve visited, and all of which exceeded the Blue Door in both variety, taste, and value.) It was acceptable, but nothing to write home about. For the price, I would not recommend it. I probably should have tried one of those tempting treats in the front display, and avoided the menu entirely. It would have saved me money and disappointment.

Final impression: This is a mediocre restaurant with pretentions of being something more, but it’s not quite there yet. Clearly they strive for Parisian bistro elegance and refinement, but instead they come across as overpriced, limited, and inflexible in their ability or willingness to accommodate vegans, those who don’t eat dairy, or anyone who wants/needs any small change from the dish the way the chef prefers to prepare it. That’s not class, that’s laziness and/or snobbery, neither of which flies well here. Ah, well - as the French would say, "C'est la vie!"

Phat Unicorn! Rating: Meh – would not recommend. All hype and little substance. Try any of the many other local eateries for better value and better accommodation.
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Have you eaten here? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Got a different favorite restaurant in the area that Your Favorite Unicorn might enjoy more? I'd love that, too.

Feel free to comment - Unicorns love feedback!

Thanks for reading, and - as always - be excellent to each other, and SPARKLE like you mean it!

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